SEATTLE -- A helicopter jointly used by KOMO-TV and KING5-TV crashed near its helipad in downtown Seattle during rush hour Tuesday morning, killing the pilot and photographer on board.
The victims were identified late Tuesday morning as photographer Bill Strothman (on left, in photo above) and helicopter pilot Gary Pfitzner (on right, in photo above).
Strothman won 13 Emmys and worked for KOMO from 1979-2008, but left to freelance and has been employed by Helicopters, Inc. since 2008. His son Dan currently works for KOMO as a photographer.
Pfitzner was also employed by Helicopters Inc. and was a "smiling face" well-known to many KOMO employees who "loved to fly," according to news anchor Molly Shen. In addition to his work in Seattle, Pfitzner once worked as a backup pilot for the KGW news helicopter in Portland.
The explosion caught two cars and a pickup truck on fire at the KOMO Fisher Plaza complex, located next to Seattle Center and just south of the Space Needle.
A 37-year-old man managed to escape from his burning car with critical injuries. He was rushed to Harborview Medical Center with burns over 50 percent of his body. There were no other reports of deaths or injuries.
A woman from the other burned car went to a police station and talked to officers. A man from the pickup truck walked off, but was later located and doing okay.
Witnesses said the TV chopper crashed as it was taking off from Fisher Plaza. The helipad is about five stories above street level. Some speculated that it possibly brushed the side of the building or some cables.
"It looked like the helicopter was trying to take off," an eyewitness told KOMO, "and it just was trying to stabilize and it looked odd. And it just took a nose dive right down there on the street. And the scary thing about was the gas from the helicopter started leaking and it caught a car or two on fire - so it's crazy."
Another eyewitness, Brian Cruz, told KOMO-TV that he saw the chopper in trouble in the air near the helipad.
"It looked like it got hung up on some cables, and before you know it - boom! - it dropped to the street," he said.
Debris hit several cars parked along Broad Street in downtown Seattle. The chopper and three cars exploded in flames.
Ignited fuel ran down the street, prompting several motorists to flee on foot. A woman who ran was later interviewed by police at a precinct and a truck driver reported missing after the crash contacted police to be interviewed about the incident.
Plumes of thick black smoke rose from the crash scene as rescue vehicles converged on the area.
The Space Needle was closed for the day.
Watch live: Continuing coverage from KING5 News Seattle
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